Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Workshop Notes

Summary of the presentations by the Civil Rights and Civil liberties panel:

Wilbur Sato

Although I was only 13 years old, the camps had a huge impact on me.   Not only were we in a prison camp not knowing if we would be sent to Japan or how long we would be there, our family was also placed in the Terminal Island block where I did not know any of the people nor did I speak Japanese. Our family returned to California in 1945 and I completed high school at Dorsey in the Crenshaw area.  Segregation was very overt with restrictive covenants limiting where minorities could live.  We lived on 4th Avenue because Japanese Americans could not live west of Crenshaw (the line kept moving westward).   This created a sense of being limited and confined but college opened up a world beyond what we had known and in some ways actually made us more aware of our isolation.  My teachers played a big role in introducing me to issues like the children of the blacklisted screenwriters who would not give up names of people to the Senator Joe McCarthy’s House Committee on Unamerican Activities and then could not find work in Hollywood.  This was a very scary and dark time with attacks on liberals and Communists. 

Fortunately during this time, a sociology professor introduced me to the Nisei Progressives, which was a group of Nisei writers, artists, architects and intellectuals including people like Sue Embrey, Art Takei, Estelle Ishigo and the Kunitsugus who were interested in politics. I was young and very impressed by these really smart people.  These were the people who would continue to influence me throughout my life, getting me involved in groups such as the Manzanar Committee (Sue), Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (Art ) and other issues.  

For me, this was the beginning of my activism and involvement in building the political strength of Japanese Americans in this country.  I helped to form the Intercollegiate Nisei Organization which was a social network for JAs from UCLA, LACC, USC.  As a student at UCLA, I was in the Nisei Bruins and edited the newspaper with articles about sports, social activities as well as politics and current issues. My role was to try to bring progressive ideas into the groups I belonged to.   In 1951, I again saw how fragile my civil liberties were when I was fired from my job at the plant (what kind?).  I had been working there my senior year to survive but I believe that I was fired because of my involvement and association with liberals.   But this did not stop me from being involved.

In the late 50’s we formed the Japanese American Democratic Club which supported people like Bradley and Edward Roybal.  I was fortunate to be Vice President of the ELA Chapter of the JACL when Edison Uno was the President and the Civil Rights Chair of the district.   We worked more on local fair housing and employment issues and did not get involved with the broader civil rights movement.  We organized other APIS (Chinese, Filipinos and Koreans) to host a banquet for Governor Pat Brown to gain his support around fair housing.


Evelyn Yoshimura

I was raised in the Crenshaw district in the 1950s-60s, exposed to the Black community – civil rights & black power. I remember the Watts riots in 1965 which erupted in response to decades of police brutality. “I didn’t act on the feelings and ideas that were developing, but I was definitely marinating.”

In 1969  students at UC Berkeley & SF State went out on strike for ethnic studies and their message was: “we were  the first generation of college grads, standing on the shoulders of those who came before – our people who performed backbreaking labor, suffered racist  exclusion & attacks, were even thrown into camps; our responsibility was to return to the community and use the skills we gained to fight for justice for our people.  There were no bilingual/bicultural services, no organizations providing needed services, etc.

In the early 1970s, I was one of the 100s of young JAs who descended on Little Tokyo where so much was happening w/ people trying to address so many needs. People came together to form 100s of groups to address these needs — many key social service groups today can trace their roots back to this period. I joined w/ other students & community youth to start a bookstore called Amerasia—couldn’t buy AA books anywhere else at the time.

In the mid-1970s, during the redevelopment of LT, I worked w/ low-income residents, cultural & community groups and family-owned businesses to oppose the Weller Street evictions to build the Otani Hotel & Mall; winning concessions for all the groups.  Later I took job at Tokyo Kaikan working for 3 years to integrate and work w/ Japanese immigrant workers. As redevelopment wound down, the movement for redress began gaining steam:  debate w/in the community about demanding monetary compensation or just an apology for being put into camps during WW II.  NCRR formed in 1980 to organize the community to demand monetary compensation through outreached to the grassroots, specially those w/out a voice.  We translated information, went to churches, temples, community centers, senior lunch programs.  The Issei proved pivotal and the Rafu survey showed that an overwhelming majority of the community wanted monetary compensation.

NCRR also stood against racism against others; I was NCRR rep to the L.A. Free South Africa Movement organizing an Asian contingent in the annual march against apartheid down Crenshaw Bl.  Finally, the Redress bill passed forcing the government ot pay $20,000 to each survivor.  We always said were doing this work to “make sure it never happened again”

Kei Nagao

  • My timeline starts in the 1980s…the most prominent memory is walking to elementary school when I was in 2nd grade and seeing a sticker of a large Japanese flag crossed out on a stop sign by school.
  • Confused- Shin Issei/Nisei, I had come to the United States when I was a couple months and my world was comprised mostly of Japanese immigrants and my connection to the Japanese American community was not strong yet so I identified with the Japanese flag. 
  • My activism started in college in the late ‘90s and inequality was growing and at the same time there were projections on population growth for 2000. The projections showed a growing number of people of color especially in California. 
  • Who was blamed for the inequality- immigrants, people of color, youth of color,
  • There were propositions to prohibit undocumented immigrants from using health care, public education, and other social services, there was an English only initiative, and there was an initiative to try youth as adults. Just to name a few.
  • Internet boom/ dot-com bubble, economy was still doing well and it prevented people from being critical of the system.  That is why it is so interesting to see the Occupy movements today.
  • Affirmative Action- coalition
    • Different forms of activism-teach-ins, AAS , educational forums, opinion pieces, AP eyes exhibit, protest, walkout,  meetings with elected officials/ academic senate

After graduation: 9/11/2001

  • Vigil outside JAMN- where Japanese American had to register to be shipped off to internment camps.
  • Patriot Act was signed into law a month after 9/11, 342 page bill.  Compare to 7 months to add contracting standards to library privatization- 7 pages.
    • Dramatically reduced restrictions to monitor telephone, email, medical, financial, other records.   Searches at a home or business without permission
    • Allowed for indefinite detentions of immigrants (regardless of legal status)
  • Educational programs, breaking the fast, monitor registration (men from certain Arab countries)…bridging communities
Kristin Fukushima
  • For quite awhile now, we’ve definitely seen a high level of activity amongst NSUs, particularly in community stuff & increase in community youth programming – but we barely see any JA-identified progressive work. WHY?
  • It’s all pretty depoliticized though – it hasn’t always been this way but right now it’s community and culture, which are important but… it’s not political or progressive.
  • Too moderate? Conservative? Apathetic? JAs today have trouble connecting to the issues facing the API community, and other progressive causes – “too privileged” … and “too assimilated”?
  • I feel like the most progressive work our community has done in recent years was our support and work with Muslim communities post 9/11 – although that was mostly older folks at first.
  • The funny thing is, there are JAs out there, doing the work – in labor, in education, in environmental issues, in LGBTQ community etc – but not necessarily as JAs.  So it’s like, we only have a few JA-identified progressive spaces, but there are many progressive JAs, and JAs in progressive work wthout doing work/being connected in the JA community
  • It’s almost a separation of identity and politics – which is so weird to me, bc they’ve always been incredibly linked for me
  • Coming of age in a post 9/11 era + repercussions (and this is sort of the historical context, especially since it’s shaped our generation)
    • War time and paranoia and fear: Patriot act + other national security measures
    • Rise of extreme conservatism, religious right
    • Increasingly divided, more partisan
    • In particular – liberal has become a negative word, and really, the left is just sort of shit on
  • I feel like there is a hesitancy to do more political things in JA spaces– maybe bc it’s divisive/polarizing, or people are apathetic, or people are assumed to be apathetic, or people are too moderate or conservative, or we’re scared, or we don’t know how
  • And that mentality seems to be reflective of the rest of the community. And maybe that’s why if you’re a young, progressive Nikkei… you probably don’t work at a JA org – you work in the area you’re passionate about.



Political Epiphanies


1940 – 1960

  • Growing up in Boyle Heights
  • Late 1940s-earl 1950s: made to feel like the enemy that attached Pearl Harbor by the media and some super-patriots – and I was just a kid in elementary and jr. hs (TN)
  • Late 1800s – 90s: learning about the struggles of plantation workers in Hawaii, of my family’s history there
  • Being called “Asian sister” by a guy in a suit and bow tie selling “Mohammed Speaks” in the supermarket parking lot
  • Really talking to my Issei dad about “camp”
  • Every Dec 7th in grammar school the students would taunt me.  (I was the only JA in my class.  It was horrible.)
  • In 1st grade, with 2 African American girls and 2 white girls, I was identified as white – 1956.


  • On TV seeing Blacks in the South being hosed during the Civil Rights protests.
  • In an organizing meeting in college discussing role of AA, one AA said, since we were already “accepted,” it should be from inside the system.  White guy said we may be good cooks and gardeners but we’re not really inside the system.
  • Philosophical discussion in college, in response to my identity as an individual first, a female second and Asian third, he (he was black) said it was just the opposite: people see me as an Asian first, then a female and third – if ever – an individual.
  • Living in O.C, was introduced to Gidra and was “turned on” that there were people I could relate to.
  • 1970: joined Asian American Movement
  • 1970: invasion of Cambodia, Kent / Jackson State, student uprisings
  • election of Mayor Bradley
  • anti-Vietnam War and Civil Rts movements
  • United Farmworkers Strikes and boycotts
  • 1969: returning to UC and finding Asian American Studies
  • 1980s: growing up as a person of color in a white neighborhood
  • 1960-65: became shot steward in aerospace union
  • 1980: Reagan elected – the Dark Ages begin

1980 – 2000

  • 1987: went on lobbying trip with NCRR to Wash D.C.
  • segregated kindergarten
  • JA father’s engagement with Singal Hill Long Beach Police – Childhood, Mari Ryono
  • In 1985 my brother called me and told me there was a hair salon called JAPS and what did I think about that.  That was when I got involved in NCRR.
  • I experienced racism when I was with my Japanese boyfriend and I was clueless. 1998.
  • 1983: joined UCLA NSU, worked with UCLA Asian American Studies Center
  • 1986: UCLA NSU – Week of Remembrance, worked with NRR, worked with UCLA Asian Coalition
  • 1987: worked on Don Nakanishi’s tenure case, met Sue Kunitomi Embrey – my first Manzanar Pilgrimage
  • 1992: LA Riots/Rebellion = Reform of LAPD
  • 1988: met Wendy Tokuda, who became a lifelong mentor
  • 1990: elected pres of Asian Student Union in college, began organizing and collaborating on campus and beyond in SF Bay Area
  • In 1987 I joined a group of 100+ to go to Wash. DC to lobby Congress for passage of redress bill.  We also picketed the South African Embassy.
  • 1985: I got involved with NCRR when a hair salon opened in W. Hollywood named JAPS.  NCRR was picketing the salon and they finally changed the name
  • 1991; Mills College student and slum strike to keep the campus for women only.  Attending a women’s college changed everything for me, period.
  • 1992: Rodney King uprising media coverage
  • 1990s Welfare Reform –Mari Ryono
  • 1990s Women of Color Movement: This Bridge Called My Back, bell hooks, Yuri Kochiyama – Mari Ryono
  • early 1990s: Gulf War activism
  • Meeting NCRR activists, trying to get passersby interested in redress on the corner of 1st and San Pedro in the early 1980s
  • 1998: Educate to Liberate Forum with Yuri Kochiyama, Grace Lee Boggs
  • 1985: got involved with NCRR when a hair salon in W. Hollywood was named JAPPS & NCRR picked (sic) them
  • 1998: playing with a black girl the whole day in my grandparents local park and implicitly being told that what I did was weird/wrong
  • 1st grade 1998 “dirty blood”

2000 —

  • After 9/11, the way US Muslims, Arab Americans and South Asians as enemies not to be trusted, as people to be vilified, and people to be detained for no good reasons reminded me of how we Jas were viewed and treated after (and also before) Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 precipitating WWII race war
  • 2001, 9.11 through media, I felt that world is changing
  • 2003: got interested in redress, NCRR
  • 2011: got interested in Filipino immigrants in Tohoku
  • Spring 2001: anti-Muslim sentiment when I was in high school.  I didn’t understand it but I knew it was wrong.
  • 9/11: realizing how fearful our parents felt after hearing American Muslims
  • 2003: multiracial conference
  • 2007: finding Gidra
  • 2011: my JA Asian Studies class
  • 2005 Sept: I learned that during WW2 Japanese Americans were sent to camps in my history class
  • 2005: 1st AA Studies course
  • 2008: helped organize an event for while learning about Love 146 (child sex slave trade; learned about the Cambodian genocide from co-workers
  • 2008: study abroad/foreign exchange “exotic”
  • UCLA 2010: diversity, oblivious people
  • Fall 2008: working with Asian American students @ the Claremont colleges using leadership development motivated me to want to develop the next gen. of leaders
  • April 2011: Manzanar Pilgrimage with UCLA NSU I got the chance to lead one of the discussion groups during Manzanar at Dusk after the pilgrimage.  During this conversation I facilitated between different individuals: yonsei, sansei, Nisei internees and Muslim Americans.  This made me realize the importance of social issues and learning about the community, especially connecting to other groups (esp post 9/11)
  • 2009: Coming to ULA.  Leaving a non-Japanese community and finding NSU and their activism.  Also learning about Vincent Chin in my Asian American Studies class.  Also about the resulting movement from this hate crime.
  • 2009: Heard a talk on racial reconciliation that led to question what does it mean to be a Japanese American and not just an American who happened to be Japanese. (began to explore JA history esp WWII grandparents experiences)
  • Fall 2005: First year of college – culture shock and wanting to increase access for students of color at the university
  • 2009- present: studying experience in university
  • 6th grade (2002) learning about my grandparents being interned in Topaz

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: